Dear Thelma,

I am 16 years old. I have a problem with my mum. I feel she is terribly unfair to me. I can’t have any leisure time because my mum expects me to study all the time

She once told me: “You’re only in Form 4, why do you need to watch dramas? Just focus on your studies!”

The gadgets in the house are password-protected. Everyone at home has access except me.

I understand that parents want their children to excel in their studies so that they can have a bright future.

I can understand if she scolds me because I watch dramas every day and do not study at all. But my exams are over and she expects me to prepare for my SPM now. No matter how well I do in my exams, she is never satisfied.

I do not understand why my sisters can watch dramas the whole afternoon and never get scolded. My sisters never get hit after Year Six. But my mother still slaps me even though I am already 16.

Sometimes I cut myself because I don’t think life is worth living. It’s like I’ve got no respect from my family. If my sisters complain about me, my mum will surely scold me. If I were to complain about my sisters, she will tell me: “I don’t care what you guys do, just go and fight it out.”

My dad is the understanding one. But too bad he isn’t the most powerful one. He can only listen patiently and try to cheer me up by making me laugh. – Unloved

Dear Unloved,

It is easy to empathise with your situation. The way you have described it, it does seem like there is a lot of unfairness and you seem to bear the brunt of it.

Your mother sounds like she has a domineering personality. It is too much to expect you or someone else to talk to her about what she is doing and how it is affecting you.

It also seems unfair to expect you to accept it and move on. You are a child and should not be expected to do so.

Coming back to your mother, it seems like she abides by the theory of tough love. She seems to believe that pushing her child hard – even when she does well – will drive her to do better. Not only that, she probably believes that this will make you a better person. Your mother is the proverbial tiger mum.

This kind of ideology has its pros and cons. Proponents swear by it and it is very difficult to dissuade them, or even to make them see the other side of the argument.

Tiger mums are controversial. The Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, written by American lawyer Amy Chua, illustrates the controversy clearly. She chronicles in her book the methods of raising her two daughters. It received a lot of negative press in the West. Her daughters, who are now very successful, have stepped forward to defend their mother.

The crux of the matter is that these mothers do it out of love for their children. They do not bear any ill will towards their children. Instead, they are driven by a need to provide the best and give their children every opportunity. They also want them to value hard work and understand that good things do not come easy.

The flip side is that having this kind of attitude can make their children feel unloved and isolated – a lot like what you are experiencing now. It can also make you feel as though nothing you do is good enough. The expectations of tiger mums are very high, and no matter how well you do, it never seems good enough.

So your challenge would be to try and see things from your mother’s point of view. She is doing this out of love and concern for you. This can be hard to digest because she is so harsh, it seems like she does not love you.

Why does she treat your sisters differently? That is very hard to say. Perhaps she sees something in you that she doesn’t see in your sisters. She expects more from you. Hence, when you disappoint – by fighting with your sisters or doing “frivolous” things like watching dramas – your punishment is harsher. It is not that she cares less about you; it is just that she expects more from you.

This perspective is not meant to ridicule how you feel. Instead, it is to help you see that your mother is not out to get you. She truly believes she is acting for your benefit. If you can see this, it may help you become less defensive. When you become less defensive, it will help the situation.

For one, when you are less defensive, you are less likely to react impulsively. You are less likely to say something harsh in retaliation to your mother’s scoldings, or do something out of spite or rebelliousness. When this happens, you are less likely to be in the line of fire.

It may seen unfair that you are expected to change while your mother is allowed to continue as she is. But you cannot change other people. You can only change yourself. You can decide if you would prefer to be at loggerheads with your mother, or change your perspective. The latter is easier.

When the relationship between the two of you becomes a little better, you may find it easier to negotiate with your mother so that you can be allowed to have some time to watch the dramas you like. Start small – 30 minutes or two episodes a day, maybe a little more on weekends.

You will also have to develop a way to find satisfaction in your own achievements. It is not just about making her happy – of course, she will always want you to do better.

Find a way to motivate yourself independently of what your mother wants, or what gains you want from it. When you are able to do that – to be self-driven – it will upset you less when your mother does not show the kind of enthusiasm you expect.

You may be tempted to compare your mother with your friends’ mothers and be unhappy when you realise she is not like them. If you expect her to be the perfect “TV mum,” you will have to stop doing this. Your mother is your mother. he can only love you the way she knows how. She cannot be the kind of mother you imagine, or one that your friends talk about. Accepting her for who she is can also help the situation.

Laugh with your father. One of the best defences against a tough situation is a sense of humour. Do not think your father is powerless. Even in his quietness, he is doing something. Let him encourage you. Let him be the one from whom you get the support you need. Fathers are valuable resources, too.

The most important thing is that you should know your worth. You do not have to think about hurting yourself or ending your life. If you need to talk to someone about the pain, the Befrienders is a telephone counselling service that is free and available to everyone.

The school counsellor is also someone you can talk to, if you think the school environment is safe enough to share what you are going through. Cutting yourself may help in the short term, but it is not something you should do. It is unhealthy coping, and very dangerous. You must stop doing it.

There are many ways to love someone. There is no right or wrong way. Sometimes, we may feel like we are not loved but that is far from the truth.

The best way to deal with it is to take a step back and gain a different perspective of the situation. The view may not be very nice, but the new perspective can allow us to adopt different – maybe even better – attitudes and behaviours. That is not a sign of weakness. It is actually a sign of strength and courage. – Thelma

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help.

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